Writers who don’t outgrow short fiction are the exception rather than the norm, Remnick says.
Question: How do you respond to criticism of The New Yorker's short fiction?
David Remnick: My feeling about short fiction, though, is complicated. And I think that any time, historically, when the New Yorker’s fiction has been perceived as or is truly strong, there are probably two, or three, or four writers who are really floating the boat because of their mastery of short fiction. This was certainly true in, say, the ‘60s and ‘70s when [John] Cheever, [John] Updike, Donald Barthelme, and I’m leaving people out; that’s who you remember. You remember over time the masterful work, the best work.
It’s not a question of less of it. That’s not true.
What’s the question? The question is who do you regard in a given moment as a master of the short story? And the problem is, I think a lot of writers graduate out of short fiction. They write them in youth – in their twenties – and then they stop. And it is unusual for the pattern to be otherwise.
Jim … who is now probably 40, is unusual. Much more ordinary pattern is Philip Roth. He writes, “Goodbye Columbus”. They’re short stories. They gain him some notoriety and he moves on.
It is extremely unusual to have a career like John Cheever in which you’re writing short stories from the beginning to the end of your writing life. And Alice Monroe is another unusual one.
I can’t really think of too many fiction writers of middle age and younger where the short story plays the dominant role. Maybe George Saunders would be one, but it’s unusual.
Question: Why continue publishing short stories?
David Remnick: First of all, I think there are enough of them at a high enough level that in fact I find myself reading them with enormous enjoyment, pleasure, intrigue, all the rest.
And being an editor is about hope, and we come out every week. It’s like asking a baseball manager, if you happened to lose three games, “Why do you keep playing?” Because there’s the next day.
I think American fiction is in a state of real strength. The American short story, you have to keep looking, and you have to keep encouraging writers sometimes who are farther along to write stories. And sometimes that works. It certainly works with who is obviously not in the beginning of his career.
And also hope that you discover younger writers in the beginning when they are writing short stories that are strong. And that’s happened over, and over, and over again
Recorded on Jan 7, 2008